Seattle County Files 11th U.S. Climate Liability Lawsuit Against Big Oil
King County, which covers the Seattle metropolitan area, followed the lead of 10 other cities and counties in the U.S. when it filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the world's five largest oil companies for damages incurred by climate change, a county press release announced.
"The science is undisputable: climate change is impacting our region today, and it will only cause greater havoc and hardships in the future," King County Executive Dow Constantine said in the press release. "The companies that profited the most from fossil fuels should help bear the costs of managing these disasters. Big Oil spent many decades disregarding and dismissing what is our most pressing generational challenge. We must hold these companies accountable as we marshal our resources to protect and preserve what makes this region great," he said.
In particular, King County is suing the companies for help with stormwater management, salmon restoration, and protecting public health, as well as other measures to adapt the region to climate change.
Overall, eight California cities and counties have sued a variety of oil companies for damages. The suits aren't limited to the West Coast. New York City and Boulder, Colorado, together with Boulder County and San Miguel County, have also filed climate-related suits against oil companies this year. Since the Colorado cities and counties filed their lawsuit together, that would make King County the eleventh U.S. urban area to take on Big Oil.
"This is a moment of reckoning for the oil and gas industry," Center for Climate Integrity executive director Richard Wiles said in a statement responding to the new suit.
"Taxpayers are tired of paying for climate damages that the oil industry knowingly caused. And just like lawsuits against tobacco, lead, and asbestos manufacturers, they are taking action to recover costs," Wiles said.
The King County suit was filed in King County Superior Court and was developed by Seattle's Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, a firm that helped win a historic settlement against tobacco companies in the 1990s.
The lawsuit further accuses the defendants of "[stealing] a page from the Big Tobacco playbook" during the 1990s and early 2000s by launching misinformation campaigns discrediting climate science and downplaying the risks of global warming. "'Uncertainty' of the science became the constantly repeated mantra of this Big Oil communications campaign just as 'Doubt is our product' was the Big Tobacco communications theme," the lawsuit said.
The county's attorneys said the oil companies might owe hundreds of millions of dollars into a fund to offset the impacts of climate change in the region.
According to the lawsuit, climate change is already impacting King County in the form of warmer temperatures, ocean acidification, increasing flood risk due to sea level rise, less snow on the region's many mountains in the winter and less water in the summer. These impacts are only projected to worsen.
Parts of King County above the historic mean high tide line now experience regular flooding, and the water level of Puget Sound is projected to increase by as much as 56 inches by 2100, the press release reported.
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Fractures Among Young Climate Conservatives<p>While young conservatives have united around the urgency of climate change, they remain divided over how to bring their concerns to the ballot box. Some embrace right-wing <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-attacks-republican-convention/2020/08/24/434e5b46-e66d-11ea-970a-64c73a1c2392_story.html" target="_blank">attacks</a> painting Biden as a "tool of the left" and find his climate agenda "radical." Others can't find a way to justify voting for Trump, even if it means breaking with their party.</p><p>Patrick Mann from Orange County, California, voted for Trump in 2016. But today, he's leading Aggies for Joe at Texas A&M University and is co-founder of Texas Students for Biden. </p><p>Mann grew up watching wildfires ravage his home state, nearly forcing his family to evacuate in 2017. The GOP is failing to "meet the moment" for climate action, Mann said. He's hoping Biden will deliver on a promise to "<a href="https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/caucus/2020/01/06/joe-biden-democrat-president-iowa-caucus-restore-soul-our-nation/2806422001/" target="_blank">restore the soul of our nation</a>." </p><p>Taylor Walker from Pensacola, Florida, is also determined to make her voice heard on climate, including by casting her first-ever vote for president—but not for Biden.</p>
A False Equivalency<p>Young climate conservatives may fear climate denial and delayed climate action, but more than that, they fear the growing political momentum around the Green New Deal, the massive spending it entails and <a href="https://joebiden.com/climate-plan/" target="_blank">Biden's citing of it</a> as a "crucial framing for meeting the climate challenges we face."</p><p>Many don't want to split with their party to support a Democrat whose <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/09/03/757220130/joe-biden-on-bipartisanship-gun-control-and-regrets-over-inaction-after-a-traged" target="_blank">allegedly bipartisan intentions</a> they doubt. If stymieing what they consider a radical green agenda means re-electing a climate change denying president, so be it. </p><p>"I'm scared of climate change, but I'm also scared of the Green New Deal and what it means for America," said Ben Mutolo, a republicEN spokesperson and junior at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. </p><p>Mutolo felt encouraged by former Ohio Governor John Kasich's <a href="https://www.rollcall.com/2020/08/17/kasich-speech-to-democratic-convention-follows-years-of-building-conservative-credentials/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance</a> at the Democratic National Convention, but he still struggles to see himself voting for Biden. Though the candidate paints himself as a <a href="https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-08-12/harris-biden-different-generation-similar-political-instinct" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">centrist,</a> Mutolo believes he's "cozying up to the ultra-progressive left." </p><p>Mutolo, who wants to see market-based climate solutions like a carbon tax, feels torn between a candidate whose climate plan relies on taking an "<a href="https://joebiden.com/environmental-justice-plan/#" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">All-of-Government approach</a>," and one with no efforts to reign in global warming at all. <span></span></p><p>Leiserowitz said he appreciated how a conservative might feel Biden's climate plan "doesn't jive with their limited government, free-market approach."</p><p>But he sees a strong distinction between voting for a presidential candidate with a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/biden-climate-plan.html" target="_blank">$2 trillion climate plan</a> that includes large renewable energy investments, which have <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/politics-global-warming-april-2020/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bipartisan support</a>, and a candidate trying "to take the country in the opposite direction, towards more fossil fuels."</p>
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